City of Lawrence to close Camp New Beginnings support site in North Lawrence on Monday

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Journal-World

Tents at homeless camps are pictured in North Lawrence behind Johnny’s Tavern on Monday, March 11, 2024.

Story updated at 9:21 p.m. Thursday, March 14:

Camp New Beginnings, the city’s support site for people experiencing homelessness, is set to close for good at 1 p.m. Monday.

A city spokesperson shared details about the next steps in closing the camp with the Journal-World Thursday afternoon. On Monday, portable toilets and the city’s trailer at the camp located behind Johnny’s Tavern will be removed. The city will also discontinue providing food services, device charging and other resources.

However, access to electricity, water, a portable restroom and Wi-Fi will still be available in the area until Tuesday, April 16. It’s not clear from the information provided by the city Thursday where on the site the portable restroom will be located.

“Advocates, staff and city partners in this work have been made aware and have discussed the plan at length with the Homeless Solutions (Division) members,” the spokesperson told the Journal-World.

The spokesperson added that Camp New Beginnings residents learned more about the next steps outlined to the Journal-World from Misty Bosch-Hastings, the city’s director of homeless solutions, Thursday night.

City staff, advocates and community members will be available on a daily basis to help everyone who’s camping plan their next steps, the spokesperson said. Case management services and homeless outreach will continue through the City of Lawrence.

Some of those support strategies, according to the plan shared with the Journal-World, may include a housing search, transportation to “natural supports,” resources for housing deposits and rent or other resources. The spokesperson clarified that transportation to natural supports can mean a number of things: a bus ticket or Uber ride to a hometown, or safe transportation to the Lawrence Community Shelter and working with shelter staff to get them settled there.

“People who are currently camping both at Camp New Beginnings and in outer camps are meeting with various case managers to explore various options as they focus on next steps,” the spokesperson said.

When the city support site closes on Monday, it will have been open for nearly a year and a half since it was first established Oct. 1, 2022. For much of that time, a larger unsanctioned camp has been located immediately next to Camp New Beginnings.

The timing for closing Camp New Beginnings overlaps with move-in day for the first group of residents at The Village, the community of 64-square-foot cabins for people experiencing homelessness at 256 N. Michigan St. Leaders with the Lawrence Community Shelter, which will operate The Village, told the Journal-World earlier this week that 35 residents will be living there by March 27.

Beyond Camp New Beginnings, the spokesperson said camping in Lawrence’s Central Business District will no longer be allowed effective April 15. Starting the next day, the city will begin the process of “land remediation” in the Central Business District; the spokesperson did not elaborate on what land remediation would entail.

It’s not clear exactly what area the city defines as the Central Business District; the spokesperson said the Journal-World would be provided with a map that was shared with unhoused people at the meeting with Bosch-Hastings earlier Thursday night, but as of 9 p.m. the city hadn’t provided it. The city also didn’t answer a specific question posed earlier Thursday afternoon about the city’s definition of what’s within the boundaries of that district, or whether it includes other areas beyond Camp New Beginnings and its immediate surroundings.

As the Journal-World has previously reported, the city allows campgrounds in several types of commercial business districts, but not in what’s known as the “CD downtown commercial district.” Interactive mapping software available on the city’s website identifies the property the North Lawrence camps are currently located on as a “CD” district, which extends back to the nearby levee trail. But it’s not clear whether the “Central Business District” definition applies to that property, to the “CD” district that encompasses the area along and around Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence or both.

The spokesperson said the city’s Homeless Solutions Division will collaborate with other homeless service providers and the “Unsheltered Neighbor Support Network” to relocate any remaining campers in the district to appropriate shelter or housing. The network refers to an interdisciplinary task force “working to continue to evolve services” for the homeless population. Bosch-Hastings previously told the Journal-World that the City of Lawrence wanted to take cues from the past actions of a similar task force group in nearby Topeka when approaching how to shutter unsanctioned homeless camps.


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